Claude Monet (1840-1926)
oil on canvas, 17.32 x 21.65 in. (44 x 55 cm)
Prior to its theft from a repository in Meissen, Germany, in 1945, Claude Monet’s Thaw was housed in the Suermondt-Museum, today, the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen, Germany.
Colloquially known as Aachen’s “salon,” the municipal collection began in 1877 under a museum association. When German entrepreneur Barthold Suermondt bequeathed more than one hundred paintings from his collection to the city of Aachen in 1882, it became the Suermondt-Museum the following year. At the turn of the century, the museum moved to its current location, Villa Cassalette, an opulent residence in the Renaissance Revival style. Its contemporary name is due to the generous donation of artworks from the private collection of Peter and Irene Ludwig in 1977 and numerous permanent loans from the same collection. Today, it is one of Germany’s largest municipal collections with fifteen hundred paintings, seven hundred sculptures, and ten thousand graphic works, in addition to decorative arts and crafts collections. Its breadth spans the medieval period through the twentieth century, with an excellent representation of Dutch and Flemish works from the late-Gothic era to the Dutch Golden Age of the seventeenth century.
In early 1942, Aachen, which is located on Germany’s borders with the Netherlands and Belgium, was targeted by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) in its strategic bombing campaigns of western Germany. To protect its collection from the imminent bombing, the Suermondt-Museum relocated works to eastern Germany, at the time not realizing the future risks of moving closer to the Eastern Front and Soviet Union. Portions of the collection which had previously been relocated to Schloss Bückeburg, a castle approximately 30 miles west of Hanover, accompanied other works to Albrechtsburg, a castle in Meissen, near Dresden.
The Suermondt-Museum suffered considerable losses to its collection in the immediate aftermath of World War II to the Soviet Union. When Nazi Germany surrendered in 1945, Dresden and the surrounding areas fell under Soviet occupation. After combat ceased, the Russians sought reparations from Germany for the cultural losses it had sustained a few years prior when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. The so-called Soviet “Trophy Brigades” entered occupied Germany and systematically seized and siphoned its cultural treasures east. More than two hundred of the 476 paintings from the Museum that were stored in Meissen remain missing from the collection, including Monet’s Thaw.
In September 2008, the Suermondt Ludwig Museum unveiled the Phantom Gallery (Schattengalerie), an exhibition that focused on the losses. Due to excellent documentation of its collection throughout its history, the Museum presented eighty “lost” paintings in full-scale, photographic reproductions, including Thaw. Many of the Museum’s missing works were those taken from Meissen. Months after the exhibition opened, seventy-six of the “lost” works were identified by German tourists in Ukraine, formerly Soviet territory, at the Simferopol Art Museum in Crimea. Discussions between the two museums and Germany and Ukraine followed—a swap and permanent loan arrange was the proposed compromise—but dialogue broke down and all progress halted when Russia annexed Crimea and the Simferopol’s collection became Russian state property under Russian laws.
Monet’s Thaw was not among the seventy-six works discovered in Ukraine. Rather, it is believed to be in Moscow.